While millions of Americans sank into poverty during the pandemic, the housing market boomed. The market blew up largely because of rock-bottom interest rates, and continues to see so much momentum that there’s some concern that there could be a housing crash in 2022. The property purchasing fever has spread across the nation, but there’s been special attention paid to more low-profile areas (aka, “pandemic destination cities”).
To get a better understanding of what buying a home during a pandemic is like, GOBankingRates chatted with 11 people who bought real estate — each in a different location. In addition to looking at unexpected costs and savings of purchasing property right now, we found out what’s motivating folks to buy, and whether it was all worth the effort — and the money.
Last updated: May 11, 2021
1. Cumming, Georgia
“My husband lost his job during COVID and after a few job offers, he decided to accept a position in Georgia (we lived in Illinois),” said Jennifer Raaths, public relations manager at The Stationery Studio, of the motivating reason to buy a home. “Seeing that any home we were interested in was taken within hours, we went the route of building a home.”
*Unexpected costs Raaths experienced:
- Storing belongings in storage
- Renting a place to stay
*Unexpected savings Raaths experienced:
- House sold in one day for asking price
*Was it worth it? “Due to the loss of a job, it really became a necessity to move due to lack of employment,” said Raaths. “On the selling side, it was completely worth it as we made a good profit on our home and it was so nice to only have three showings and a full price offer; on the other hand, getting into a new home has been stressful and it’s really hard to find a home without being outbid.”
2. Boise, Idaho
“I wasn’t actually planning to buy a house anytime soon, but thanks to some unexpected extra income I found myself in the position to make the move,” said Ami Defesche, owner and creative director at Geeks Who Get Paid, who purchased a home in West Boise last July.
“There wasn’t any particular rush, but there were a few factors that helped us make the decision. First, we lived in a studio apartment in downtown Boise, which by this time had been a ghost town for months. So, it was feeling less thrilling to live there than when we moved in. Second, thanks to the pandemic, interest rates were at an all-time low, so we knew that if we could make it happen, it was a good time.”
*Unexpected costs Defesche experienced:
- The cost of breaking a lease. “The fine print in the lease didn’t make it particularly clear what to expect,” said Defesche.
- A month where no rent or mortgage was due after closing
*Was it worth it? “100% worth it,” Defesche said. “On top of the low interest rates that were available, property values have already increased dramatically since we even bought our house, meaning that if we were to try to buy the same house now, we probably wouldn’t be able to afford it. We feel confident we made the right call.”
“We had been looking at houses passively for the last year, but when the pandemic hit and we couldn’t really go to open houses anymore, we just put it on the back burner,” said Angela Mastrogiacomo, owner of The Blossom Agency. “Then, randomly, my fiancé got an email about a listing. Honestly we hadn’t even been checking listings so it’s a miracle that he saw it in the first place. We fell in love with the listing and found out it was about to close within three hours, and with another offer. We scrambled to get ours in and within 24 hours the house was ours.”
*Unexpected costs: “The extra costs mainly came from things like furnishing the house — which always adds up quicker than you expect — and putting in new windows to dampen the noise from the outside busy street,” said Mastrogiacomo. “It sounds small but that stuff adds up.”
*Unexpected savings: “I was so nervous about waiving inspection and expected there to be more issues we’d have to deal with,” said Mastrogiacomo. “Thankfully, being a newer house that wasn’t the case and we saved a bit there! Plus, adding the windows actually has reduced the amount of heat and cooling we’ve had to use.”
*Was it worth it? “Absolutely: The house is one of a kind and we absolutely love it.”
4. Windsor, New York
“Last year, before the outbreak, Colby, my now-husband and I were engaged to marry on June 11,” said Massiel Heffner, a registered nurse who runs the blog RNovations, adding that the pandemic forced her to postpone her wedding — and rearrange her priorities.
“Instead of saving money for a big wedding, we decided to put that money toward bettering our living situation. We anticipated that the pandemic was going to drive prices and mortgage rates completely out of reach for us so we needed to act fast. Colby and I looked at many houses for sale online until we came across the one we ended up purchasing. Because of COVID, we couldn’t see it in person for a while, but we loved it so much via pictures that we were ready to make an offer without seeing it in person, and so we did.”
*Unexpected costs experienced by Heffner:
- Moving companies. “Many companies were not working at all, and those that were had increased their prices drastically,” said Heffner. “So we ended up paying a lot more than we’d have paid pre-COVID.”
- Offer accepted below asking price
*Was it worth it? “It was totally worth it,” said Heffner. “We took advantage of a very small window of opportunity. By the end of April/beginning of May, sellers who needed to sell by a specific date were growing desperate and impatient. With people losing their jobs and a sense of uncertainty running at all-time high, there was a surplus of houses on the market while people were holding onto their cash. On our closing date, the seller informed us that he regretted accepting our offer so quickly because had he waited a little longer, he could’ve made a lot more on the house.”
5. Grand Rapids, Michigan
Motivated by a long-held desire to move to the Midwest, Brian Walsh, CFP with SoFi, and his family accelerated their timeline by up to seven years because of the pandemic. “The fact that we couldn’t see friends and family, and the opportunity to work remotely now and on a go-forward basis, prompted our move,” said Walsh. “We bought land and are building a custom home on it.”
*Unexpected costs experienced by Walsh:
- Cost of landscaping
- Low interest rates
*Was it worth it? “Whether it is worth it to buy a house right now depends on your financial foundation and time horizon,” said Walsh. “Buyers with a shorter time horizon or those who are not as financially secure might want to consider waiting to buy a house. Buyers with a longer time horizon or those who are financially secure might consider buying.”
6. Lenexa, Kansas
“There was a fixer upper house listed for sale a block away from me right when everything started to shut down in March 2020,” said AJ Chinn, owner, Phenomenal Homes with AJ Chinn. “I did not have plans to buy anything at the time, but I went over and looked at it a few times. Like most people stuck at home I was extremely bored and thought it would be a really good project to keep me busy, so I worked out a deal to buy it.”
*Unexpected costs experienced by Chinn:
*Was it worth it? “The timing on buying this house was perfect,” said Chinn. “I think that most people were too concerned about the lockdown, especially with renovating this place, that there wasn’t any competition to buy the house. I was able to get a pretty good deal on what would normally be a hot ticket. In the current time inventory is so low that it would be extremely difficult to buy this type of house in this area.”
7. Calumet City, Illinois
In 2020, Alexus Renée set the goal of buying a home by 2021, driven to give her children a place they could always call home. She purchased a home in Calumet City, Illinois.
*Unexpected costs experienced by Renée:
-Was it worth it? “There seem to be so many people looking to buy a house, which means the supply can’t keep up with demand,” said Renée. “Then you have the ever-so-fun bidding wars. I would have personally waited until things calmed down to buy — as sometimes I felt almost like I would just have to settle because people were outbidding me, and it was discouraging. I stuck with it and couldn’t be happier; however, in hindsight, I probably would’ve waited for a time when things weren’t so rushed.”
8. Toronto, Ontario, Canada
William Chin, an agile web consultant for yourdigitalaid.com, was inspired to buy in Toronto, Canada, because the interest rate in Canada had never been so low.
*Unexpected costs experienced by Chin:
- Closing costs
- Land transfer tax (specific to Ontario)
*Was it worth it?
“Toronto has slowly become one of the most expensive places to live and has grown astronomically in affordability and real estate prices in the last 10 years,” said Chin. “That being said, my partner and I purchased a condo in midtown Toronto for just under $700,000 CAD and do not regret the purchase.”
9. Apple Valley, California
“The truth behind us buying a home in the middle of a pandemic is that it happened in the perfect timing,” said Genesis Gutierrez of MySevenSouls.com. “We were not ready to buy the year before and our lease was ending. It was either to keep renting or buy a home so we decided to buy in Apple Valley, California (90 miles away from L.A.). A large percentage of new residents are coming from Los Angeles and Orange Country due to the lower priced homes.”
*Unexpected costs experienced by Gutierrez:
- Over $10,000 appraisal fee
- Competition against 10 other offers
- $30,000 for closing costs
*Was it worth it? “I do believe it was the perfect time to buy because our house has already gone up in value,” said Gutierrez. “The hassle was worth it and we love our house. The rents have gone up in value by a lot.”
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10. Norton Shores, Michigan
“My husband and I got married in August 2020, and he moved into the home I shared with my two children. Just by adding one other person, our home suddenly seemed too small,” said Brooke Ressell, lifestyle expert and founder of Blue to Bliss. “So we kept our eyes open for an affordable house in a neighboring city on the same lake where our parents and friends live. By December, we had given up because the prices were just outrageous and we decided to stay put. The very next morning, our ideal home hit the market, and we ended up buying it.”
*Unexpected costs experienced by Ressell:
- $10,000 to remediate vermiculite insulation and asbestos issues
- Kitchen cabinet replacement
- Past experience flipping homes
- Negotiated price drop after learning of asbestos
*Was it worth it? “Even though completing renovations during the pandemic is costing significantly more because of the increased prices of building materials, it’s still a good time to renovate because we have nothing else to do anyway,” said Ressell. “I would say the move was well worth the effort.”
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11. Clayton, North Carolina
Mike Aviles, an Opendoor customer, and his family had been looking to sell his home in New York and settle down in Clayton, North Carolina, before COVID-19 hit. The pandemic made him all the more eager.
*Unexpected costs experienced by Aviles:
- Low interest rates of 2.5%
- Opendoor’s cash-backed offer program
*Was it worth it? “I believe now is a good time to buy a home,” said Aviles. “With interest rates this low, it’s very motivating. Having the ability to make an all-cash offer to the seller (via Opendoor), free of financing, appraisal and home sale contingencies, is a huge plus, too.”
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